After losing an astonishing game in Cape Town, the Australian cricket team pulled off an improbable victory in Johannesburg in another closely fought Test match with South Africa, to tie the series 1-1, with . . . wait, it’s a two-match series, so there are no more games to play. Australia, for all their recent travails, are still a very competitive side; South Africa, for all of their ability to choke at crucial moments, are a formidable team, especially when they’re playing at home. An exciting series was always on the cards. Both the South African and Australian captains wanted more games; the (admittedly sparse) crowd who showed up were enthused.
Yet the administrators and (more insidiously) the match broadcasters decided that two Test matches were enough, and Australia hustled back home to take on the New Zealanders. And this wasn’t the only instance where money and the convenience of the TV audience trumped the folks who showed up to watch the game. In spite of the fact that light tends to deteriorate earlier in the evening in South Africa, the games could only begin when the TV said they could. This meant that games couldn’t start earlier in the day (when the light was better) to make up the lost time.
Clearly, Test cricket’s ability to draw a crowd to the actual game (and not just the television set) is vital. It’s noticeable that the small South African crowd was still overwhelmingly white, which is why the stunning success of fast bowler Vernon Philander was so welcome. (He was named Player of the [Abbreviated] Series.) If Philander, along with teammate Lonwabo Tsotsobe, represent the up-and-coming face of South African cricket, then the crowds might diversify and grow, and even the short-sighted TV mavens and administrators might pay attention.